Ethiopian Manuscripts Donated to Catholic University by Paige Wearmouth

By Paige Wearmouth, Class of 2017
A recent donation of over one million dollars’ worth Ethiopian religious manuscripts to The Catholic University of America’s Semitics Department has opened up new research opportunities for students and professors studying the Christian Near East.

The collection, which contains several hundred Christian and Islamic Ethiopian texts, as well as several hundred prayer scrolls, was donated by Gerald and Barbara Weiner. The Weiners, who are from Chicago, are collectors of a variety of artifacts like the manuscripts and have a particular interest in Ethiopian texts.

The Weiners chose Catholic University as the recipient of the collection due to its past and current reputation as one of only few universities in the country that offers Ethiopic studies. They also wanted the manuscripts to go somewhere they would be available for the use of academic research.

Aaron M. Butts, Ph. D., a professor in the Semitics Department, said that he already has plans to incorporate the new collection of manuscripts into the classes he teaches.

“Some of our graduate students will ultimately edit Ethiopic texts for their dissertations or other projects, including perhaps some Ethiopic manuscripts in our newly acquired collection,” Butts said.

Butts said that the new collection will be helpful for a class he offers each fall semester for undergraduate students in the honors program. The class, which is a history of Christianity from Jesus to Muhammad (HSHU 101), typically gets to visit the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR), which is a research branch of the university’s Semitics Department, in order to view objects in their collection.

“Now, when I offer this class again in Fall 2017, the students will be able to view a large and diverse collection of manuscripts from Ethiopia,” Butts said.

Butts plans to begin research on the manuscripts by working with his students to catalogue the contents of both the Ethiopic and Islamic texts and then study them in terms of their relation to the broader Christian tradition of their time.

The manuscripts, all dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, include about 125 Christian texts, about 215 Islamic texts, and about 350 prayer scrolls. The donation has made Catholic University the fifth largest holder of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the country and one of the largest holders of Ethiopian Islamic texts outside of Ethiopia. Catholic University’s location in Washington D.C. also aids in the importance of donation as it is a city with one of the largest populations of Ethiopian people in the world.

Butts said that he believes the donation will help the field of Ethiopic studies grow at Catholic University in the near future. He said it opens up many new opportunities for a variety of students.

“Students interested in library science could for instance conduct research on the preservation of manuscripts. Students interested in the history of the book could conduct research on the codicological aspects of the collection,” Butts said.

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